Fostering a dog or a litter of pups so that they can eventually be adopted by a loving family is a very rewarding job. You’re helping to shape their future in their permanent home.
Apart from the personal rewards, fostering plays a very important role in the animal adoption system. If it weren’t for the many wonderful no-kill shelters with foster programs, and the dedicated foster parents who open up their homes and their hearts to these deserving dogs, thousands more dogs would be euthanized each year.
Often when people think of fostering, they think of small puppies that need to be bottle-fed nurtured until they are old enough to be adopted. In fact, many adult dogs need care and attention too. Foster homes are also needed for pets in trouble—like those separated from their families during Hurricane Katrina. Many of those displaced pets landed in welcoming homes hundreds of miles away from their hometown and stayed with their foster families for months.
What It Means to be a Foster Parent
If you are considering becoming a foster parent, give careful time and consideration to the requirements. “It’s not a task for the faint-hearted,” says Ken White, President of the Peninsula Humane Society/SPCA in San Mateo, California. “It’s both emotionally and physically demanding.” White has been involved in animal welfare for over 30 years and has first hand knowledge of the positive impact foster care has on the adoption system.
“Being a foster parent,” says White, “means being able to give lots of love and attention, and a safe and secure environment to the dog in your care so that he can become a well socialized, happy, and healthy animal. Some pets require special time-consuming medical attention, while others have behavioral issues and need to time gain your trust. Simply, they need you!”
The best fostering situation is one in which there is at least one adult at home at all times. You also need transport to take your charge to the shelter on a regular basis for veterinary checkups and, possibly, for postoperative care.
While the adoption shelter typically will provide you with basic necessities like food and medication, you will need to make special preparations in your home in order to give your foster pet the best care. Often this means setting aside a room and keeping foster pets apart from the rest of the animals in your household. This separation allows the pets to settle in and adapt to your warm loving environment. It also ensures that your own pets are not exposed to any health risks.
Don’t Throw Out Your Old Furniture
Foster pets have been known to ruin carpeting and couches. So their care environment is a great place to recycle your old furniture. Still, you should keep furniture to a minimum and be prepared for lots of cleaning up!
Of course, no dog can ever have too many toys, and foster parents are encouraged to spoil their charges. Stock up on lots of interactive items and some soft cuddly security toys.
Remember that adoption shelter staff is on call to help you 24/7; these caring professionals provide a wonderful safety net for foster parents. They will tell you when the time is right to allow foster pets to socialize with your own animals to learn to be good canine citizens.
How to Become a Foster Parent
Most foster parents start out by volunteering at their local animal shelter. So start by asking if your local shelter offers a foster program.
“We require potential foster parents to first go through our standard volunteer orientation program and become well acquainted with the shelter and the foster system,” explains White. “This way, people are able to decide for themselves whether they are up for the job. It also gives shelter staff the opportunity to make suggestions if we consider them suitable for other necessary functions associated with general animal care.”
If you don’t think your home and lifestyle is suitable, you can always give a monetary donation or purchase certain useful items for other foster parents, such as beds, food and water bowls, heating pads, and even cleaning materials.
“When fostering, you have to open your heart but lead with your mind,” cautions White. “It can be a really tough call not to get too emotionally involved. But when it’s time for the dog to leave your care, you are not necessarily saying goodbye. Many shelters have reunions in local dog parks so foster parents can see how their charges have blossomed living with a family of their own.”
And remember, when your foster pet is ready for a permanent home, you are letting him go with the knowledge that you’ve saved his life. Now you can open your heart and your home to another deserving dog.